Marek knew it was too late for Leowen. She was gone. He was still confused as to what had happened to her, but in reverence, he found a place nearby to bury her ashes in the swamp. As the flames engulfed Baba Lysaga’s hut, Marek wept over the bodies of his fallen compatriots. And that’s when he saw it. His shadow.
It was like seeing his reflection, but in negative and in reverse. Everything that it did, Marek did in reverse, from the raise of an eyebrow to a breath. No one else seemed to see it. As it walked towards Marek, the world around slowed, and the shadow offered its hand. “A gift,” it said. It touched hands, and Marek felt a flash of power. Something was different.
Ulfrik’s spirit had detached from his body, cleansed of any polluting elements or diseases. He was, for the first time, at peace. He thought he could see his brother, calling to him from the edge of roiling mists. And others…. Aike, Flint, Gae-El, even Travis and Gideon… But then, the visages of these ghost-like forms disappeared, to be replaced only by darkness, and a cavernous, dark voice which repeated, “RETURN…. RETURN…. RETURN…”
With a cold shock, Ulfrik’s soul was forced back into his body, his screams of pain drowned out by horrifying sounds echoing through his ears. Sounds of insects and rats, screeching and chirping. Ulfrik sat straight up and gasped. He looked at his skin — it had attained a light bluish tint, and when he looked into a nearby pool of stagnant water to peer at his face, his eyes had become golden. Nearby ravens flapped away from Ulfrik, perhaps in fear, perhaps in respect. Ulfrik had lost his lycanthropy through death, but had attained a different set of powers. Tearing open his shirt, he saw that his tattoo had also changed, and that a portion of it had completely been burned away. Marek furtively came near and sensing no evil, healed him as best he could.
Mahel came out of the shadows long enough to see that the hut had been destroyed, then limped back to the abandoned church and rested. During the fight, Marek had seen a glowing under the boards of the hut. Now that it was destroyed, Marek slowly wandered inside, where he saw, among other odd trinkets and furniture, a baby in a crib. Putting his hand out, it passed harmlessly through it. He also saw that there was an iron chest. Using an iron spike, Marek pried open the floor boards, where he found another seed gem. Smiling, he put it in a pouch and put it away for later. Turning to the chest he opened it, unknowing that he had triggered a magical ward trap. The magic of the trap blasted him against the wall, and knocked him out. It also set free four undead crawling claws, which immediatlely attacked Van Richten and Ezmerelda. Ulfrik, seeing his compatriots in trouble, pulled his retrieved Sunsword hilt from his belt, and spun in a whirlwind of fury, mincing the undead foes in a matter of seconds. Then Ulfrik went into the hut, and attempted to in turn, revive Marek, who once awakened was quite groggy and reached for his wineskin. Mahel, hearing the thunderous noise, ran to rejoin her peers, and in doing so, found out the fates of Leowen and Ulfrik. Saddened by the loss of Leowen, she said an elven prayer for her departed compatriot.
Now that the magical trap and the undead crawling claws were overcome, the group set on viewing the spoils – an abundance of gold and gems, a vial of oil of sharpness, 2 clerical scrolls (although chances were low to use them well) a magical pan pipe (which no one had the skills to use) some magical sling bullets, and some sort of luck stone. At the very bottom of the chest lay a canvas pouch, in which lay the final artifact of their quest – The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. Although the true nature of its power had yet to be fully understood, this was clearly a symbol of holy force to which Strahd would be vulnerable.
Van Richten and Ezmerelda said that they wanted to bring Baba Lysaga to their tower to extract information from her, especially since Ireena had been taken from them and they needed a bargaining chip. Van Richten delivered information about Baba Lysaga — she was Strahd’s nanny and his original tutor in dark magic, so it was only natural for her to feel that she was his “real mother.” Leaving behind the hag’s half burned hut, the group found Ismark covered in moss at the edge of the swamp, still unconscious. Ulfrik hefted him over his shoulder and they made their way north along the road back towards the Old Svalich Road. The fog was thick as the sun’s dim light filtered through the clouds. It rolled in off the Luna River and off the mountainous moors that encircled the valley.
Suddenly, the sound of battle! The din could be heard from all directions, but the fog had grown so thick that nothing could be seen in any direction. Suddenly, the fog took on the forms of soldiers on horseback charging across the field. They collided with armored pike-bearers wearing devil-horned helms. As each soldier fell in battle, it turned to fading mist. Hundreds more soldiers collided in a storm of screams and clashing metal. Then, a thunderous roar was heard, and seconds later, a huge dragon made of silver mist glided overhead, dispersing enemy soldiers with each flap of its mighty wings. Its long, reptilian tail sliced through the air as the dragon carved a swath through the fog, affording a fleeting glimpse of a dark mansion overlooking the valley. And from that fog stepped a figure. The group unsheathed their weapons, ready for anything. Mahel dropped to the side of the road, her new spear in hand. A gravelly voice said, “I am nothing to fear.” The group hesitated, waiting for something horrible to come screeching out of the fog. The figure stepped forth. He was an older man, with pale, crinkled skin like that of parchment. He carried a gnarled staff and his robes seemed ceremonial. The oddest thing about him, however, was his eyes – they were like pinpricks of red light emanating from dark sockets. “I am called Doctor Haavich, and.. where do I find my feet? What is this road?” The group furtively spoke to this man, telling him that they were on the road north of Berez. Van Richten spoke to the fact that they were just east of the abandoned manor house of Argynvostholt. Hearing this, the older man seemed to react positively. Then, he began to sing a soft tune, almost to himself: “When the dragon dreams its dream; Within its rightful tomb; The light of Argynvost will beam; And rid this land of gloom.” Then, staring at the party, he said quietly, “We have been brought together.” Mahel had circled around Dr. Haavich, stealthily, and now gently rested the tip of her spear between his shoulder blades. “And who is this… Argynvost?” she said. “A long deceased silver dragon, milady,” Haavich responded. The group decided that this Haavich had no ill intention, considering that he seemed genuine in his desire to defeat Strahd, and determined that the best course of action would be to spend the night in the closest possible shelter – the manor house itself. Van Richten and Ezmerelda bid their farewells again, as they took the unconscious form of Baba Lysaga back to the tower for interrogation.
High above the river valley, a quiet promontory jutted, upon which loomed a sepulchral mansion, its turrets capped with fairytale cones, its towers lined with sculpted battlements. A third of the structure had collapsed, as had part of the roof, but the rest appeared intact. A dark, octagonal tower rose above the surrounding architecture. Out of the fog came a distant peal of thunder, quickly accompanied by the howling of wolves in the woods below, but the house stood silent, seeming like the fossilized remains of some long-dead thing smote upon the mountainside. Haavich intoned, “Behold. Argynvostholt. A tomb for lost heroes.” Marek used his newfound power to control his shadow and sent it ahead to scout the surrounding areas. “Sir Vladimir’s paladins have lost their honor. I have always hoped they would find their way again… but alas…” Haavich whispered, almost to himself. “Who is Sir Vladimir? Anything we should know about him?” Ulfrik asked. “He was the founder of our Order. He is bitterly angry after more than two centuries of battle.” The group circled around the demolished southern side of the manor to the front courtyard, where stood a magnificent but worn and moss-covered statue of a dragon, its wings tucked close to its body. The statue looked east, toward the mansion. Ulfrik walked around it and up to the mansion’s steps. He didn’t notice that the dragon’s mouth has started to open…. until it was too late! WHOOSH! A blast of cold air erupted out of the statue’s mouth. But it was just that – cold air. Nothing more. Dr Haavich smiled at Ulfrik. “The breath of Argynvost. You are blessed.” Ulfrik grimaced and collected himself. Flagstone steps flanked by stone railings climbed to a landing in front of a pair of tall, wooden doors with rusted iron bands and knockers shaped like small dragons. Carved into the lintel above the entrance was the word ARGYNVOSTHOLT. Opening the main doors with a creak, they withheld a great hall. that felt like a king’s tomb. A grand staircase led up to stone balconies held aloft by stone pillars and arches. A tall, faded tapestry depicting a nobleman in silver armor hung from an iron rod above the staircase landing. Six sets of double doors led from this foyer. Along the walls, displayed on marble pedestals, were three alabaster busts of handsome men. A fourth bust and its pedestal had been knocked over, and their shattered remains lay strewn across the mosaic floor. Two chandeliers of wrought iron hung from the ceiling like monstrous black spiders. “Wow,” Mahel said with a smirk. “Nice place.” “It was once wondrous,” said Haavich. “But I cannot recall the images.” Mahel, in typical fashion started to walk away from the group and find her own way. Haavich said, “Stay close, milady. I cannot ensure your safety if you wander.” Ulfrik agreed and said that she should stop wandering off. Outright, Mahel stated that she felt better off by herself, and didn’t necessarily feel that she was safer in their presence than not. With a tinge of anger, she said, “Whatever you are, I doubt you can ensure my safety by or away from your side.” The intention of the group was to find a safe place to sleep for the night, considering the shape that they were all in, after the battle. Ulfrik looked at Haavich. “What about you? Need rest?” Haavich shrugged. “I do require rest, but I have spent a lifetime sleeping… always waiting for my time to arrive. Now, that it’s come, I will not sleep until Strahd is dead.” Marek, always looking for wine, found through the use of his shadow powers a small side room where several large barrels of wine lay. Mahel expressed her exasperation with Marek’s inability to remain sober. Once inside, however, an interesting discovery was made. A dusk elf, named Savid, was laying on his side, seemingly wounded. He seemed grateful for the healing the PCs provided. Savid said that he lived with the other dusk elves of Barovia in the Vistani camp outside Vallaki. He was searching the woods for a missing Vistani girl named Arabelle when a wandering mob of needle blights accosted him. He was forced to take refuge in the mansion. Recognizing the name of the missing girl, the group chose to remain silent. Savid said that Vistani and dusk elves normally avoid the mansion, believing that a dragon’s ghost haunted it. He said that his dusk elf master, Kasimir Velikov would return their favor in kind, should they ever meet with him. With that, Savid thanked the group and quickly left to return to his people. The group found an abandoned bedroom upstairs, and took the time to rest. At this time, Mahel complained again that no matter where she went, she couldn’t find any studded leather armor. “I can make that if you so desire,” Haavich stated. Stunned, Mahel looked at Haavich with more than a bit of avarice. “What?”
The night passed, and, being an elf, Mahel awoke from her trance earlier than the others and slipped out the door quietly to scout around, but not before making a slit in Marek’s wineskin with a grin. Haavich had warned her that there were places in the manor that ought not to be tread upon. Not long after, Ulfrik woke and began to look around for Mahel. Marek woke with a hangover and seeing Mahel once again missing, employed his shadow to quietly find and trail Mahel if she wandered through the cold dark manor house. The group tracked Mahel up to the collapsed roof, a twenty-foot-diameter gaping hole with broken rafters bisecting it. Dark storm clouds rolled across the sky overhead. The roof was piled with rocks, broken tiles, shattered beams, and other debris. Beneath the rubble lay sagging construction and puddles of rainwater. They heard a noise coming from a nearby stairwell, and followed it to see Mahel moving stealthily down from the top of the nearby tower. Marek loudly whispered, “Mahel, what are you doing?” Reflexively, Mahel pointed a finger at Marek and cast Hideous Laughter. Marek started to chortle, then snicker, then broke out into a guffaw of such intensity that it was a wonder he could even breathe.
And that was when the door across from them opened with a loud creak…